Psychology students aid farm workers in south Georgia
Monday, July 19, 2010
– Jeremy Craig, University Relations
Imagine being thousands of miles away from home, separated from your family and living in conditions that could be described as third-world as you worked on a farm in the hot sun. The mental health strain would be heavy, but there are no counselors to help you out.
And even if you brought your family with you, the strain is also hard on your children. Moving from place to place puts them behind in school, and there’s a high likelihood that they will eventually give up on education as they grow older.
Thanks to a group of Georgia State University psychology students this June, a group of migrant farm workers, and their families, received the care they needed.
The team ventured to Moultrie, Ga., in the southwestern part of the state as part of a larger project to improve the health of migrant workers and their families. The work was performed in cooperation with faculty and students from Emory University, Clayton State University, West Georgia Technical College and Valdosta State University, as well as physical therapy also from Georgia State.
The group of 18 GSU graduate students and two undergraduates provided mental health resources as well as psychoeducational testing for children of the workers. The students and professors aided a population which is almost invisible compared to the entire community at large and for which there are very few resources, said Associate Professors Christopher Henrich and Julia Perilla.
“Mental health providers are few and far between for everyone in southwest Georgia, but for migrant workers, you can forget it,” Perilla said.
The conditions under which the laborers, who come from countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti, are often harsh.
“The health risks are extreme, and there are conditions under which many others wouldn’t work,” Henrich said. “There are issues with pesticides, exposure in the weather, living conditions and poisonous crops. They are cut off, with limited transportation, and there are not a lot of services for them.”
Mentally, the conditions take their toll. Migrant workers are often separated from families, often leading to depression and stress. Sometimes, coping with this stress translates into the heavy use of alcohol during free time.
“It’s very sobering to know that there is incredible longing to be with their families,” Perilla said. “It can be overwhelming for the workers. But they do it because they want a better life for their families.”
For those who have brought their families with them, the children face heavy burdens as well. The children travel with their parents and move from school to school, which makes it harder for them to have a continuous education and eventually putting them at a higher risk for dropping out as soon as they’re legally able to, Henrich said.
The trip to south Georgia also served as a time when students collected data for research, who surveying 118 workers regarding their physical and mental health as well as their needs and strengths.
“It’s very taxing work for the students, but they feel that it’s really worthwhile,” Perilla said. “There’s so much difference from what students are normally exposed to.”